The Changing Face of the News & Publications Industry

James Thomas, Square Social

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the changing face of the news and publications industry. Many of you may have witnessed first-hand the impact The Guardian’s Facebook news application has had on their distribution process and readership.

The simple truth is – the way we communicate and share information with each other has shifted seismically. The past 10 years have seen the meteoric rise of social networking. It began with Myspace and the final word seems to be Facebook.

Far from existing as standalone ecosystems, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are now integral pieces in the rapidly evolving modern business landscape. Facebook recently reached 1 billion active users, that’s active users, not a throwaway metric like signups or page views. These people are actively logging into Facebook, sharing information and communicating with one another.

The recent presidential debate between Romney and Obama speaks volumes about the changing landscape. The debate saw over 10.3 million tweets in 90 minutes. The model of top down communication has been flipped on its head. To use President Obama again as a case study you need only look to the figures published on the social media campaign that helped him win the presidency, full case study can be found here. Obama embraced social media, McCain didn’t. Obama won, enough said.

So what’s the bottom line for news and publishing? According to Hitwise, the extent to which news consumers rely on social media is rapidly evolving. 8.6% of traffic to news sites now comes from Facebook, Twitter and smaller social media sites such as Pinterest – a 57% percent increase since 2009. The percentage coming from search engines, meanwhile, is declining. It now accounts for roughly 21% of news site traffic, a drop of 9% since 2009. Social media, in other words, now brings in almost half as much traffic to news sites as search does.

However, these figures shouldn’t be taken out of context. They aren’t a result of posting a few tweets per week, they are the result of large entities taking advantage of nascent Facebook functionality and breaking away from their slow moving legacy cousins.

I’m referring in this instance to the introduction of Facebook’s Open Graph, which allows for frictionless sharing across the social network. This means that applications automatically share ‘stories’ in the news feed, for example when a friend listens to a song on Spotify or reads an article on The Guardian News reader. The figures, speak for themselves.

As quoted by Tanya Cordrey, The Guardian’s Head of Digital Development: “For the first time in our history, Facebook drove more traffic to guardian.co.uk than Google for a number of days, accounting for more than 30% of our referrer traffic. This is a dramatic result from a standing start five months ago. Social traffic has since dipped below search – but I believe it is only a matter of time before it becomes the main driver of traffic to many core Guardian products.
Maybe the most exciting aspect of this experiment has been the type of users it has attracted. A typical user for most news organisations – whether radio, TV or print - is around 40 years of age.
But the largest group of users for the Guardian Facebook app are between 18-24 – notoriously the hardest group to reach. And they are global. Our Facebook content is accessed in almost every part of the world. We have hundreds of users in Rwanda and El Salvador, thousands in Cambodia and Nigeria, hundreds of thousands in Egypt, Japan and Brazil and millions from the US and the UK. Every day we see the app usage become more global as the network effects of Facebook kick in.

The larger question here is why. The answer is simple and the result of several basic tenants of human psychology.

Firstly, communication is a two way process, it’s reciprocal. When we communicate with someone, there’s a back and forth. One person says something, the other responds and the conversation continues. This has always been the case in the real world; there just hasn’t been the digital infrastructure in place for this to be reflected accurately on the web.
Social networks now fill this gap; they provide the infrastructure for communication to follow its natural pattern on the web.

This was first illustrated with the introduction of Facebook Connect, for those unaware this is the functionality that allows you to log into a website using your Facebook profile. The reason social networks are the future of communication is because they provide the real world functionality that is present in every real world communication.

The ability to ‘like’ something reflects one’s approval, ‘commenting’ is pretty self explanatory and the ‘chat’ function needs no explanation.
The bigger picture, at least from a fiscal and advertising perspective, is the concept of socially curated content. This might seem like jargon, but all it really refers to is a tailored experience that’s based on your likes, dislikes and the pattern of behaviour exhibited by you and your friends.

There’s a reason why behavioural advertising is the most effective form of advertising. The same reason underpinning why socially curated content is the most effective method of generating advertising revenues.

Blanket advertising doesn’t work, it never did.
Why would you leave your advertising strategy to chance, when you can tailor it with such an incredible level of specificity?

If you’re looking to sell anything, you need to have a target audience in mind and you need to understand their behaviour. If you’re a martial arts club looking for new members, why would you hand out flyers to people on the street when you could create a sponsored story targeting Facebook users who’ve expressed an interest in martial arts?

Social is here to stay. It’s not something that can be taken lightly and definitely can’t be ignored anymore. I can’t remember the author, but I remember this quote due to its poignancy: “If the external changes in your industry are moving quicker than the internal ones within your business, then the end is near”.

This article however can only begin to scratch the surface of the changes currently taking place; if it’s been of any interest to you I’d advise reading the full State of The Media report here.

Thanks for reading!

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